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December 4, 2013
Column #1,684
Pope’s Exhortation to Church and World
By Mike McManus

Pope Francis has issued his first apostolic Exhortation, a 224-page blueprint to jolt the church out of its complacency by enlisting all Catholics in two tasks: to evangelize the world and serve the poor.

“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he wrote in a document called “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel).

The task he has assigned to the church is monumental. At one level it is to attack consumerism or what he calls “the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures and a blunted conscience.”

However, the far larger task is to restructure an economy characterized by a “survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed on the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

His comments on the economy shocked conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh.

His words were homespun and colorful. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? How can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?“

Francis blasted those who defend “trickle-down economics,” the belief that the free market, will somehow bring “about greater justice.” Francis called that “a naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

He urged political leaders and financial experts to ponder the words of an ancient sage: “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs.” He spoke of the importance of guaranteeing all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare.”

Rush Limbaugh told his 15 million listeners “This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope.”

However, is the Pope correct in his analysis that we have neglected the poor?

Unequivocally, the answer is Yes. The last time the minimum wage was raised was 2007, and then it only rose to $7.25. Until the 1980s, the minimum was enough for a single parent to not live in poverty. If it had been indexed to inflation, it would be $10.50 today.

Present law is robbing the poor.

The American reluctance to raise the minimum wage is an example of what the pope calls an “idolatry of money” leading to a “new tyranny” in which a few people’s incomes grow “exponentially,” creating a gap separating the majority from the “prosperity enjoyed by those happy few.”

“The Joy of the Gospel” opens with a dream like that of Martin Luther King 50 years ago: “I dream of a missionary option…capable of transforming everything, so that the church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world, rather than for self-preservation.”

For example, the Pope was also critical of those within the church who almost seem to be on “veritable witch hunts.” In recent years some bishops have advocated denying the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights or same-sex marriage. He asserted the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment of the weak.”

Francis argued that the Sacraments must not “be closed for simply any reason.” That gives hope to divorced and remarried Catholics who are now blocked from holy communion.

However, he asserted that ordaining women to the priesthood “is not a question open to discussion,” though he wanted to give women more responsibility. And the church’s defense of unborn life “cannot be expected to change.”

The Pope’s most powerful comments were about a “throw away culture” in which some people like the poor are considered disposable. He wants the church to oppose spreading income inequality and unemployment.

Francis asserted, “Money must serve, not rule!” He added that he loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is “obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor.”

He is not being Marxist, but Christian in calling for higher ethical standards “to bring about balance and a more humane social order.”

As Proverbs 29:7 puts it, “The righteous care about justice for the poor but the wicked have no such concern.”

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